As October rolls to its spooky season finale, we are greeted with a deeply strange week for records, and a deeply strange person to review them. That’s right, it’s me again, with another off-kilter selection of music you probably weren’t going to put in your ears, but that I will nevertheless try my hardest to convince you to.
We’ve got the second album of 2018 from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the tense and eerie soundtrack to Suspiria from national treasure Thom Yorke, and the long-awaited project of rising hip-hop star Joji. With such a mixed bag of albums, I thought it best to shake things up a bit and look at the most interesting single(s) of the week first.
Nick Zammuto – ‘Tonight We’ll Go For a Ride’ / ‘Winter’
Nick Zammuto (also known as just Zammuto or as one half of musical duo The Books) recently scored the soundtrack to We The Animals, a quasi-autobiographical film based on the book of the same name by Justin Torres. The full soundtrack is available on the 9th of November, but, for now, we’re treated to ‘Tonight We’ll Go For a Ride’ and ‘Winter’, rich and evocative maturations of Zammuto’s work both as a solo artist and with The Books.
Zammuto’s solo career has sort of existed in the shadow of his work with Paul De Jong, and although it sat relatively pretty in comparison to some of the more questionable output from De Jong, it still felt a little directionless and not quite ‘there’ yet. The first two Zammuto LPs felt markedly free from the influence of De Jong – incorporating all kinds of strange sonic textures – but their more straightforward sound felt like a step backward from the truly unique catalogue of The Books. Perhaps the unrestrained creative freedom led Zammuto somewhere he didn’t fully intend to go.
In 2016 we were treated to Veryone, a simple three-track EP that was both preceded and followed by 2 years of silence. Everything about this rather unassuming EP was wonderful for fans of Zammuto and The Books – its vinyl-carved percussion and eclectic sampling instantly recognisable and deeply engaging (please, do yourself a favour and listen to ‘It Can Feel So Good’ and just try to not feel so good). A long wait, and finally we’re getting new Zammuto – in a new format, but one that fits his talents perfectly.
Both of these short compositions for We The Animals are tremendously evocative, with an incredibly vivid and natural selection of sounds that rise together in unison, analog textures crunching against one another and rushing synthesisers that bound along with an unabashed freedom. The skittering and hushed texture of ‘Winter’ really shows how Zammuto thinks of music as a form of natural sculpture – it ebbs and flows like a reel of fabric unspooling, or a wave crashing over sand on a beach. ‘Tonight We’ll Go For A Ride’ is more direct – a swelling and glimmering audible journey that sounds like an out-of-body experience. Both tracks are examples of Zammuto’s craft as a musician, honed in secret since Veryone and all the better for it.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – IC-01 Hanoi
IC-01 Hanoi is a complete musical freakout. Recorded during the Sex and Food sessions, Ruban Nielson’s musical experiments are here laid bare – all the noise, technique and quirkiness of any Unknown Mortal Orchestra album, but strewn all over the place like dirty laundry on the floor of a wannabe pothead stroke indie-rockstar. IC-01 Hanoi is defined by its eclecticism but doesn’t exactly know quite what to do with it; as various instruments dive in and out of the mix there’s nothing to hold onto that isn’t slippery, amorphous and confusing. The plainly numbered tracks shrug off the burden of Nielson’s lyrics depicting paranoia, technology, and isolation, and instead entrench themselves in a psychedelic marsh – the soupy production covering everything in a layer of grit that sticks in the ears and clogs up the speakers. IC-01 Hanoi approaches the avant-garde and the compositional realms in all its decorated oddity, but would perhaps leave some fans disappointed in its far less straightforward and accessible ‘indie’ sound. Fans of that classic Nielson mess of production will, however, be ecstatic as IC-01 Hanoi delves deeper into the recesses of his instrumental brain – every instrument awash in a million layers of delay, fuzz, reverb or all three together. Whilst not the peak of Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s discography, IC-01 Hanoi is certainly a worthwhile and rewarding listen, especially when interpolated motifs from Sex and Food arise from the swamp like a psych-rock Loch Ness Monster.
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus – boygenius
The sadgirl cinematic universe comes to its natural conclusion with the middling boygenius, a collection of songs from the indie songwriter supergroup composed of Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. The combined creative talents of these up and coming songwriters perhaps flies a little too close to the sun, as the individual discographies of each member far eclipse their combined might as boygenius.
You can see the songwriting personalities of each member in the details of each song – a crunchy guitar tone from Dacus on ‘Salt in the Wound’, a Bridgers-style acoustic ballad on ‘Ketchum, ID’ and a self-destructive lull on ‘Stay Down’ that could only be espoused by Baker. The parts here are perhaps greater than the whole, as most of the songs on boygenius feel like those same personalities are buried under the weights of the others at any given time. Aside from a few truly stand-out moments such as the undeniably rousing conclusion of ‘Salt in the Wound’, boygenius is a fairly plain experience that is more than a little subdued along its 20-minute runtime.
Julia Holter – Aviary
From the first few seconds of ‘Turn the Light On’, Aviary proudly states its enormous scope and magnum-opus ambition. Every possible instrument that Julia Holter can get her hands on collides at once – a swirling and open blast of beautiful noise that suspends itself for as long as possible before rattling suddenly to its finish.
Aviary is a truly remarkable work of art – a complex beast that I am still unravelling as I write these words. Each individual track is packed with detail and technique – concepts clashing together at every turn to create music that pushes into avant-garde territory as it pleases. Aviary strangely reminds me a lot of a nature-based version of Platform from Holly Herndon in its staggering complexity and nuanced use of voice modulation and manipulation throughout. Whilst Herndon’s work felt synthetic, claustrophobic and automated, Holter’s is its binary opposite in these places – a lush and verdant garden of an album that expands outwards in every sense. I find myself at a loss for words when describing Aviary – cinematic, layered, dense… all these words cling to elements of the album but none strike it at its core – it needs to be heard to be understood, absorbed and enthralled by.
Thom Yorke – Suspiria (Music for the Luca Guadagnino Film)
Yikes. If Thom Yorke’s bafflingly peculiar solo discography was a mountain of strange ideas and sonic experimentation, then Suspiria is truly its summit. There’s been rather a lot of hype for Suspiria itself – its star-studded cast pressing all the ‘hype’ buttons possible inside the brains of both Radiohead and supernatural horror fans alike (probably producing the edgiest venn diagram in existence). Us Brits haven’t been able to watch Suspiria yet, but if the soundtrack is anything to go by, it’ll be creepy as heck (to use industry terminology). Yorke’s soundtrack is as complex and atmospheric as any of his work with Radiohead, rivaling fellow bandmate Johnny Greenwood’s knack for composition on his Paul Thomas Anderson endeavors. Keep your eager eyes peeled for our Suspiria review, which will surely be far better written than this rather cursory examination of its score.
Joji – BALLADS 1
I really, really want to hate BALLADS 1. I really want to pen a derisory greater-than-thou ‘sick burn’ of a review that dumpsters this album for something it is not but I would pretend it to be. Here are some example first sentences I wrote for my review:
BALLADS 1 is a fascinating album – its frankly unbelievable streaming figures showing that all you really need to be is ‘internet famous’ to produce a charting album in these terrifying times.
Man, anyone else hate Filthy Frank?
Joji’s BALLADS 1 is an album that tries, really tries to get us to forget about ‘Pink Guy’ forget about ‘Filthy Frank’ and forget about ‘George Miller’. “Joji”, it seems to proudly proclaim, “Is your new favourite hip-hop poster boy. Give him your money and forget about everything else”.
Here’s my problem. I wrote all these awful, pretentious and, well, wrong words before I really listened to BALLADS 1. In reality, it’s… not to bad? Joji here has created a record that fits perfectly to expectation – a fairly low-key and lower-fi confessional hip-hop album with its own unique sonic textures. Inspired by that scathing review of the latest Greta Van Fleet record, my brain was already locked in to scorn Joji for basically anything it possibly could have done wrong, regardless of whether it actually did it or not. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all of the authorial intentions and biographical details in the world when looking at Joji as an artist, but to do so is perhaps to cut out the music itself – after all, it doesn’t sound half bad. BALLADS 1 starts much stronger than it ends, with ‘SLOW DANCING IN THE DARK’ an early-album highlight that isn’t really surpassed throughout its runtime. Overall, its quieter moments stand out more than middle-of-the-road wannabe ‘bangers’ such as ‘NO FUN’, producing an album that feels just slightly less confused than I do reviewing it.
This Week In Records: Playlist Edition
Want to listen to all of this musical goodness? Follow our shiny Spotify playlist for The Edge‘s picks of what new music deserves to be on your radar each and every week (this time including a few little extras).